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I loved Moneyball, but feel I need to critique a few things in the same way a Star Wars fan must point out Hans Solo would not have survived being frozen in carbonite.

First the good: the film is wonderfully acted by the main cast of Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill and Phillip Seymour Hoffman.  I thought Hoffman did especially well portraying a big league manager (Art Howe).  The directing and photography were well done and the baseball scenes looked legitimate … for the most part.

Unfortunately, a non-baseball fan (or even an uneducated baseball fan) can easily walk away from Moneyball misled.

The 2002 Oakland A’s were a great team.  They did win 20 games in a row.  Billy Beane did gather his team in a way that was new to the baseball establishment.  But it took much more than Scott Hatterberg, David Justice and Jeremy Giambi to do this.  The film all but omits huge contributors such as Miguel Tejada, Jermaine Dye, Eric Chavez and Ray Durham.  Aside from Chad Bradford – a good, but not great middle reliever (3.11 ERA in 75 IP) – Moneyball doesn’t mention the dominating pitching staff consisting of Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito who pitched 46 percent of the entire staff’s inning total in 2002.

Barry Zito, the 2002 Cy Young winner was a huge reason the Athletics were as good as they were in 2002.

It could be pointed out that the pitching wasn’t the point of the film.  The point was Beane was trying to fill a gigantic hole from the loss of Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon and he did so with a few players that other teams considered unworthy of a roster spot, let alone a starting position.

One of the film’s main divergences focuses on Beane’s insistence for Howe to start Scott Hatterberg instead of the young rookie Carlos Pena.  When Beane and his assistant eventually work on trading Pena, his assistant says he’s going to be an All Star.  This is nowhere near the truth.  Pena wasn’t near his potential in 2002.  His statistics with the A’s were well below average (.218 AVG, .305 OBP, .419 SLG, 141 PA) – hardly an All Star.

The film also acts as if Hatterberg didn’t get significant playing time until after the trade of Pena.  This is also not true.  Hatterberg played 136 games with 568 plate appearances.  Pena only played 40 games.

Then there are the baseball scenes.  I don’t remember anything being wrong with the stadium lighting when the A’s were trying to win their 20th straight game, but director Bennett Miller seems to have taken a lesson from Tony Scott and his horrible film The Fan.  Given the lighting in the film, Hatterberg never would have hit that home run to win the game but rather listened to three strikes he couldn’t see.

During the flashbacks of Beane’s playing career, the audience is shown Beane playing for the Twins.  Unfortunately, they put Beane in a home uniform during an outdoor game – impossible during the mid-80s in Minnesota.

Speaking of Minnesota, even though the scene that portrays the A’s final game of the season is very short, there are a number of inaccuracies.  Eddie Guardado is the final pitcher for the Twins.  Guardado was not the athlete like the actor portraying him.  He was a chunk.  Corey Koskie catches the final out from the bat of Ray Durham in fair territory near third base.  The final out was caught by the second baseman Denny Hocking deep in foul territory behind first base.  It was also a day game with the sunny, cloudless sky a factor with high fly balls.

Eddie Guardado

During the Twins’ celebration the audience hears commentators talking about why Minnesota won and the A’s lost.  They forget to mention the Twins had an almost equally small payroll (Twins $50.4 million vs. A’s $44 million.)

Moneyball is a great film.  I wasn’t looking for absolute accuracy and didn’t expect it.  The book mentions Beane’s daughter, but not to the depth of the film.  I loved the father/daughter aspect of the film.  It adds a human quality to Beane that makes his decision in the end more appreciated.

In The Rookie, Jim Morris’s big strikeout in his first game takes only three pitches.  In real life, it was four.  Is this 100-percent accurate?  No.  Do I care?  No, but it’s fun to point out.

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For a baseball fan, this is the hardest time of year.  Pitchers and catchers have reported to spring training, the games have yet to start and the anticipation is agonizing.  It’s almost here, but it’s still not here. 

Someone once asked Cardinals great Rogers Hornsby what he did in the offseason.  “I’ll tell you what I do.  I stare out the window and wait for spring.” 

As someone who doesn’t get 1% of the joy out of other sports as I do out of baseball, I can relate to Mr. Hornsby.  Luckily, I love to read and baseball books and biographies hold me off until April.  I’ve read dozens of books on the greatest game and its players, but here are my top five favorites.  This probably won’t be the last top five baseball book list as it won’t be easy to make the cuts.

October 1964 by David Halberstam
Halberstam chronicles the seasons and eventual World Series collision of the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals.  The Yankees are old and ending their run of five straight World Series appearences.  Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra are nearing the end of their careers, but are still good enough to make their way to an American League pennant.  Halberstam also writes of the hushed racism still in the game as the Yankees could have embraced a more diverse clubhouse, but chose instead to put a cap on blacks players with one, Elston Howard. 

In the National League, the Cardinals are young, diverse and heading into a great decade of baseball.  A mid-season trade to get a young raw player named Lou Brock helps turn the team’s season around.  Halberstam puts the reader in the clubhouse alongside the  personalities of Bob Gibson, Tim McCarver and backup catcher Bob Uecker.  For readers who despise the greatness of the Yankees, it’s great to read about the team’s demise which would lead to an eventual last-place finish in 1966 while watching the Cardinals organization make all the right moves.

 
The Yankee Years by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci
This book is modern baseball, unfortunately and fortunately.  Joe Torre and Tom Verducci go deep into the manager’s tenure as the New York Yankees’ skipper to tell the stories behind the stories.  The most shocking moments come from the egotistical players like Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens and Gary Sheffield.  But there’s also the nod to Derek Jeter and what he’s gone through and seen since joining the club in 1995.  Torre uncovers the forgotten stories of Yankees who have come and gone in the minds of fans like Kevin Brown, Randy Johnson, Jared Wright and Chad Curtis. 

It’s the good, the bad and the ugly of the last 15 years of baseball told from just one dugout, but certainly the most popular dugout. 

 
Moneyball by Michael Lewis
You don’t have to agree with it, but it should be read.  Not since Jim Bouton’s Ball Four has a book turned the baseball world upside down simply based on theory.  The experts who used the new way of putting value in a player based on statistics praised the book while the old school men who graded players on their own instincts declared it blasphemous.  One thing if for sure: I have not looked at the game the same since I read Moneyball

 

Using general manager Billy Beane as the focus, Lewis shows how small-market teams compete against the likes of the Yankees, Mets, Red Sox and other large-market teams.  They don’t have the cash flow those teams have, so they need to find a different way of finding the best players.  It’s much more than just on-base percentage.  Lewis shows how Beane finds players every other team has looked over.  That same player no one wanted tends to find his way to the big league club.  Moneyball is the LSD of baseball books: you’ll never look at the game the same again.

 
The Bad Guys Won! by Jeff Pearlman
From spring training through the regular season to a wild championship series and World Series, it’s amazing the 1986 New York Mets lived through the season without either killing each other or overdosing on drugs and alcohol.  Finding out about all the shenanigans that went on from the incredibly diverse clubhouse adds more exclamation to the fact that the team won 108 games and  the World Series. 

From Daryl Strawberry’s egotism and drug use, to Gary Carter and his will to take the credit, to manager Davey Johnson’s ability to look the other way, to the dominance and hidden demons inside Dwight Gooden, author Jeff Pearlman takes the reader on a wild ride that is the ultimate page turner of baseball books. 

 
The Soul of Baseball: A Road Trip Through Buck O’Neil’s America by Joe Posnanski
Buck O’Neil is arguably the greatest ambassador the game has ever seen.  Joe Posnanski followed O’Neil for a summer while the former Negro League star made various appearances as a motivational speaker or just at the ballpark.  The author has the ability to let the reader see just how uplifting and powerful O’Neil can be to the average person, not just baseball fans.  From O’Neil’s optimism on life, no one would be able to tell he suffered through terrible racism and segregation as a Negro Leaguer or later in life as a coach in the major leagues.

Of my top five, The Soul of Baseball is great, not just for baseball fans, but anyone who enjoys an uplifting read.  You don’t have to love baseball to enjoy this book.

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